Almost every time I eat out these days, the ubiquitous glass of water comes with a straw in it. Although I’m in the habit of asking for my water without a straw, about 25% of the time, this request is forgotten, and I get the straw anyway. And it’s everything I can do not to let this seemingly small act impact my mood. I look around me at the people at my table, as well as at every other table, and try to do the math in my head. How much oil is procured to make just a day’s worth of disposable plastic straws? How many are then thrown out each day? What percentage are incinerated? Landfilled? Wind up in waterways?
I realize plastic straws are a tiny drop in the bucket of pollution, but they represent just one of the plethora of destructive habits that we unconsciously engage in daily.
There are times when I feel like we are on the brink of profound transformation in our world. When I observe how readily we can collaborate and innovate across every border; how things that were once almost unimaginable (women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, animal rights) are becoming more normalized every decade that passes, I have so much hope that we are on the cusp of creating a humane, sustainable, and just world.
And then I get a straw in my water, and I realize we still have a long way to go, when the simplest choices to do more good and less harm still slip off our radar. Straws in our water. Plastic or paper bags at the store. Receipts that go from our pockets straight to the trash. All of these little instances serve as a great reminder to all of us to commit to both self-education and humane education of others. Our small choices add up. Refusing to acquiesce with destructive norms changes those norms. If every person asked for a straw-free drink, they’d disappear. After all, they cost restaurants money.
We need to pay attention, ask ourselves about the effects of our choices on ourselves and others (people, animals, and the environment), and make shifts as we’re able. Not every choice will be as easy as saying “hold the straw,” but every step brings us closer to new personal and societal habits that will build a better world.
Image courtesy of eschipul via Creative Commons.